It’s a pity that a mention of Rishikesh evokes images of adventure sports (only). A New Year trip to the place with a desire to get away from the social obligation of attending Crazy New Year Eve parties revealed to us the other side of Rishikesh, what the place was meant for originally, before rafting and bungee took over.
Distance from Delhi: Depending on the route taken, Rishikesh is roughly 250kms from Delhi (takes approximately 6 hours for the journey). The drive through sugarcane fields of Uttar Pradesh provide a refreshing start to the journey. There are other travel options as well but the road route is the best if the point of origin is Delhi.
Stay: While there are a host of travel options available over the entire spectrum of price range, we zeroed in on Shiv Shakti Hostel. The place has good ratings (which it deserves), is pocket friendly, the dorms are really clean and well maintained and is conveniently located (close to the Lakshman Jhula). The staff is warm, cooperative and extremely helpful. From suggesting itineraries to helping you out with executing them, the place has a really fun feel to it!
Here’s a list of things that can be done at Rishikesh (apart from the adventure activities).
Irrespective of whether you’re a believer, Ganga Aarti on the ghats of Rishikesh should be given a try. With the sound of bhajans filling the air, the synchronised movement of the pandits and the cacophony of temple bells and percussion instruments, the entire scene forms a charming spectacle. While Ganga Aarti can be viewed at Parmarth Niketan, Triveni Ghat or Haridwar (Har ki Paudi), my personal favourite is the Triveni Ghat Aarti.
Kunjapuri Temple Sunrise Trek (ending at Neer Gaddu Waterfall)
Kunjapuri Temple (apart from its religious significance) is the stereotypical sunrise point (that every hill station has). It provides for panoramic views of the Himalayas in the distance and the Ganga River below (along with a lot of intense breeze).
The five mile trek down towards Neer Gaddu waterfall passes through local villages and farms. Passing through mustard fields accompanied with the unavoidable DDLJ references and debating Government policies as we hiked towards the waterfall, stopping for rest at villagers’ homes, the trek is definitely worth it.
Pick up from hotel in Rishikesh around 5am. Drive to the Kunjapuri Temple (takes about an hour).
Once at the temple climb x steps to the inside (variable estimates are available on the number of steps; not being a morning person per se I was sleep walking my way to the top to bother about counting the steps, but quite a few!). There is a small shop for a light breakfast and a cup of tea or coffee. The shop owner is an incredibly gregarious guy who gave us real time updates of Anushka and Virat’s whereabouts (to put things in perspective, Indian media was awash with the fake news of Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli’s supposed engagement in Rishikesh this New Year!), what happened when Vidya Balan visited his shop, what exactly Preity Zinta did when she was there…
On reaching the temple (a few more steps from the shop) wait there for sunrise, “which lights up the Himalayas in a beautiful glow, eventually shining on the town of Rishikesh and the Ganga River.”
After sunrise, start the downhill trek (about 5 miles) to Neer Gaddu Waterfall. A plunge in the pool is recommended.
The tour normally starts at 4am or 5am and will end around 12pm or 1pm.
Guide for the group & pick-up and drop-off to hostel can be arranged by your place of stay (the cost depends on the number of people in the trek. For a group of 6 or more Shiv Shakti charges ₹700 per person which includes breakfast).
Star gazing/chilling on the banks of the Ganga
Rishikesh provides ample opportunity to find a quiet spot on the banks of the Ganga to just sit and stare at nothing and beyond, read, chat or if like us you are lying on the rocks after midnight then just look at the stars with the wind howling in your ears bringing with it the distant sound of temple bells (a refreshing change from all the Honey Singh/Badshah etc. tunes that was riding the air in Delhi).
Cafes with a View
Rishikesh is full of Cafes boasting an amazing view. While 60’s seems to be quite popular (based on online ratings), we tried Cafe de Goa (the view in the above image is from Cafe de Goa) and were not disappointed especially after the disaster that was Lotus Cafe. If you have any respect for your taste buds then Lotus Cafe should definitely be avoided. They took on the challenge of ruining whatever they prepared quite seriously! (Across Rishikesh Falafel seems like the safest thing to order!)
Rishikesh to Haridwar via Chilla Dam & Rajaji National Park
To avoid the traffic congestion on NH 58 to Haridwar, the staff at Shiv Shakti suggested this alternate route to us via Chilla Dam. Not only will you beat the traffic, the journey along the Ganga Canal and Rajaji National Park is picturesque. If you’re one of those who loves a nice drive then this route (Rishikesh-Chilla Dam-Rajaji National Park-Bheem Goda Barrage-Haridwar) is a must-do.
Things we did not do
Among other things Rishikesh is known for its Yoga Ashrams & Retreats. There are abundant residential programs for various types of Yoga. Given our priorities we didn’t find out about these.
While we did hire two wheelers to go towards Shivpuri for adventure activities, a puncture followed by another followed by a traffic jam on that route brought us back to Lakshman Jhula!
I had gone to Rishikesh to spend a peaceful New Year in the company of trusted travel companions. The trip did not disappoint. Among the many slow clap moments of the trip, the one that readily comes to mind is when we were trying to motivate a friend to search for his Simran (we were hiking past mustard fields) when suddenly another pitched in-Abraham Lincoln once said that you miss hundred percent of the chances you don’t take!